American Contributions to Chinese Soil Science

Article ID: 563802

Released: 23-Apr-2010 8:40 AM EDT

Source Newsroom: Soil Science Society of America (SSSA)

Newswise — Mere cultural and political differences have not been able to keep soil scientists from China and America from collaborating with each other. American soils scientists were the first foreign soil scientists to come to china, and introduced pedology, or the study of soils in their natural environment, to China in the 1930s. Since then, their contributions have helped shape Chinese soil taxonomy.

In the Spring 2010 edition of Soil Survey Horizons, a publication of the Soil Science Society of America, a team of Chinese soil scientists lead by Zitong Gong give an historical perspective of the influence of early and modern American soil scientists in the development of China’s soil science discipline. The first American scholar to investigate agriculture in China was John L. Buck, from 1929 to 1933. He came to China to investigate agricultural practices of rural villages, and wrote Land Utilization of China, primarily describing China’s agricultural economy, but also discussing land use, topography, climate and soils. He was one of the first to conceive the idea of establishing a Soil Survey for all of China. Charles Shaw, an America pedologist, was invited by the Department of Agricultural Economics at Nanjing University, then under the direction of Buck, to investigate soils in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the lower reaches of the Yellow River. In 1930, he performed the first official Soil Survey of China, and wrote The Soils of China. When Shaw returned to America, he introduced Robert L. Pendleton to the director of the National Geological Survey of China (NGSC), Weng Wen Hao. Pendleton became the first chief soil technologist of the Soils Division of NGSC. He was the first American pedologist to spend several years in China during the early stages of modern soil survey, and taught his Chinese colleagues soil survey and lab analysis techniques. Pendleton was replaced by James A. Thorp in 1933. Thorp brought with him new soil research methods along with the soil classification system developed by C.F. Marbut, which would eventually become the system modern soil scientists use to classify types of soil. Thorp’s collaborations with Chinese soil scientists introduced new soil types to American pedologists, including the Shangdong brown soils and the purple soils of southwestern China. Although he had only 14 employees during his tenure in China, when he arrived at a symposium in 1980 on paddy fields, he remarked that there was now an independent institute with hundreds of research fellows. From 1949 until 1978, soil science in China and America continued to develop, but independent of each other. Chinese pedology developed alongside the Soviet Union. American soil scientists continued developing soil classification that culminated in Soil Taxonomy. Their Chinese counterparts developed their own classification system, until 1978, when ideas and soil designations were integrated from Soil Taxonomy. In 1982, a new batch of American soil scientists helped to develop the Chinese soil classification system. This began when Richard Arnold, the former director of the USDA-NRCS Soil Survey Division, was invited to China to teach soil taxonomy in China. Beyond introducing the concepts and methods of modern American diagnostic soil classification, he also gained an understanding and appreciation for the work of Chinese soil scientists. Through the efforts of Hari Eswaran, in 1987 the Rockefeller Foundation hosted a conference on soil taxonomy. This brought together other notable American soil scientists who would have major impacts on Chinese soil taxonomy, including Stanley Buol and Larry Wilding. Both Buol and Wilding have been invited to China numerous times to lecture. Through their influence and expertise, scientific communication between Chinese and American Soil scientists has strengthened throughout the years as the Chinese soil taxonomy system has gained prominence. The influence of these America pedologists has caused the American and Chinese soil taxonomy to be remarkably similar. Through these collaborative efforts, the soil science in China has as strong a bedrock as it does in America.

This featured article of SSH is available for free access at until the next quarterly issue.

Soil Survey Horizons,, is a medium for expressing ideas, problems, and philosophies concerning the study of soils in the field. Articles include research updates, soil news, history of soil survey, and personal essays from the lives of soil scientists. Soil Survey Horizons is published by the Soil Science Society of America.

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive, international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, and founded in 1936, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.

SSSA supports its members by providing quality research-based publications, educational programs, certifications, and science policy initiatives via a Washington, DC, office. For more information, visit


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